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Independents' Day

NHS Choices removes 200 reviews over suspicions of practice staff involvement

Exclusive NHS Choices has removed almost 200 patient reviews of GP practices this year over suspicions of practice staff involvement.

One patient at a practice in Somerset was asked to prove that she was not an employee and did not have a connection with the surgery ‘beyond that of the normal patient-GP relationship’ after posting a five-star review on the site.

In a letter to the patient, NHS Choices threatened to reject the comment within seven days if no response was received.

It later told Pulse that it had removed almost 200 reviews this year over suspicions of staff involvement. It stressed it takes the 'integrity of these reviews seriously', and that these 200 would include positive and negative reviews that have been flagged as suspicious by users.

NHS Choices also emphasised that this represents 0.25% of the 80,000 reviews posted on the website.

However, local GP leaders said the practice of vetting positive comments is ‘extremely demeaning’ and suggests that GPs 'have got nothing better to do at this incredibly busy time'.

Karen Thompson, a patient at Tudor Lodge Surgery in Somerset, left a review of the practice in May, praising it for ‘the kind, caring and professionalism of all the staff’. 

However, NHS Choices then sent her an email, seen by Pulse, saying her comment had been ‘flagged up as it may have been written by a member of staff’ and it was removed from the site.

The email said: ‘Could you please confirm within seven days that you are not, nor have been in the past, employed by the surgery or have any other connection to the surgery beyond that of the normal patient-GP relationship.’

It added: ‘If I do not hear from you within the seven days then your comment will be rejected.’

Following clarification from Ms Thompson that she was a patient, the comment was republished on the site.

Ms Thompson said the email was ‘offensive’ and the intervention forced her to ‘question the validity’ of the site.

She said: ‘The NHS gets so much negative press that I just think you should be able to write positive things.’

Practice manager Suzie Heller, said: ‘It just makes my blood boil, how unfair the system is.’

She added: ‘It really knocks you when people make negative comments and then you just feel like weeping when you realise there’s actually a positive comment from a patient.’

GPs have long called for NHS Choices to be scrapped, with GPs voting in favour of a motion to remove ‘trivial complaints’ from NHS Choices at the most recent England LMCs conference.

Meanwhile, former RCGP chair Professor Clare Gerada has called for the site to be scrapped in a bid to improve GP morale.

GP practices have previously come under fire from the CQC’s chief inspector of primary care for creating false accounts and posting positive reviews on NHS Choices before their inspection.

However, Dr Mike Ingram, a Hertfordshire LMC member, told Pulse: ‘To actually find that positive reviews are suspected is extremely demeaning, and not only that, it suggests that general practices have got nothing better to do at this incredibly busy time, than to run around trying to generate artificial positive reviews like a naff restaurant on Tripadvisor.’

Dr Ingram, who argued against the England LMCs motion, said the situation is ‘a very cynical and sad reflection of the way general practice is viewed by others in the NHS’.

A spokesperson for NHS Choices said: ‘NHS Choices receives around 150,000 reviews a year. We take the integrity of these reviews seriously because they inform patient choices, so if a concern is raised about a review then we don’t publish it until we have investigated.

‘Our investigations involve contacting the person who posted the review as often there is simply a misunderstanding. Of the 3,400 issues we have investigated so far this year, we upheld around 58% of the concerns, with the other 42% published as swiftly as possible.’


Readers' comments (27)

  • I am not sure its just the comments that are frustrating, they have took it upon themselves, to state that a practice is one of the worse in the country under the score with 2 to 21/2stars. That is more demoralising. I guess if you drop to a score of 2 you will be deemed and recorded as being the shit-est surgery in the country

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  • Anonymous bad reviews posted by non patients (family members/friends) who has been refused due to confidentiality. Reviews posted by patients who are abusive to staff and continues it after their removal. The NHS choices should remove these.

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  • Bob Hodges

    To be honest, anyone choosing their GP practice on the basis of NHS choices reviews is likely to be an above average attender when adjusted to demographic norms......

    .....the cynic might say they are welcome to register elsewhere.

    I can't remember the last time I looked at NHS Choices and life is slightly less crap as a result.

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  • Stop Press! NHS troll site full of bile! The thing needs shutting down but the government finds it a useful stick to beat us with. Amazed anyone takes the reviews seriously.

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  • it would be simpler to simply remove NHS choices as a means of anonymous comment and ridicule for those trying to provide a service underfunded, undervalued, and underinvested by politicians who proport to support a true NHS.
    It is actually sad to see that some nerds are employed to monitor an unnecessary and demoralising activity.
    Personal observation over many years is that those who value you, even in times of adversity take the time to WRITE to you while trolls use anonymity to complain.
    I took last year to send all emails "A comment about xx surgery has been posted on NHS choices" to JUNK.
    If all practices and GPs did this how could any expense on a totally un-needed activity be justified and the nerds could be sent home to play at something else.

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  • An NHS choices spokesperson? Who are these people, how much are they paid for overseeing this absolute waste of time, space, money...etc I'd rather money invested in our local mental health services than pay for "spokespeople"...

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  • this reporting mechanism should be scrapped immediately as it hampers evidence based clinical care and exposes GPs to totally unvalidated scrutiny which is harmful to their mental health

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